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nb: mostly spoiler-free

So on Tuesday myself and some peeps marathoned our way through the rest of the first season of Battlestar Galactica.

My initial dislike of the series, motivated by its unceasing and very American focus on the military and government of the last of humanity* has waned considerably as certain themes have come to the fore. The most interesting of these (notwithstanding the sound of Sophie sighing everytime Starbuck winks or punches someone, and yesIwilladmit, I myself am not immune to the charms of incredibly butch starfighter pilots mmmm) being dehumanisation, which pretty much all of the human characters find a fairly easy concept to apply to their not-human enemy. A lot of the bad things that the humans do could perhaps be ethically justified on a utilitarian basis, but they are more often morally justified with “You’re just a machine,” or “You don’t have a soul, just software.” Which makes this a show about war, and the horrible trap it can be to people’s thinking. People don’t often make balanced ethical assessments, let alone leaps of sympathy, when they feel constantly threatened. And of course it’s understandable and unsurpising that people would avoid sympathising with the Cylons at any cost, given that the series starts with the Cylons committing the biggest act of genocide in the history of humanity. So everyone you know is dead, at what point will you start to sympathise with the Cylon? When it speaks to you? When it sweats? When it bleeds and cries out in pain? When the Cylon loves you? When you have loved the Cylon? When it is carrying your child?

It seems like the answer many of the characters on this show would like to give is “Never”, which is depressingly beleivable.

Religion is the other big thing the show seems to be taking a stab at, but I'm not sure yet where it is going with it. The most popular religion amongst humans (not an organised one in the sense of institutional heirarchy, it seems) is a polytheistic creed echoing greek myth and incorporating a precursor story (our precursors left earth, who left Kobol, who then founded the 12 colonies). More interestingly, the Cylons appear to be monotheistic in something resembling the judeo-christian concept of a god. And we don't know at this point how individual the Cylons are. We know that each has their own will and makes their own decisions, but we also know that Cylons can be created from scratch with a prefabricated set of beliefs and memories in their brain. So we don't know whether religion in this case has been pre-installed as part of keeping individuals compliant to the larger war machine, or if it is something that developed amongst cylons as part of their own hopes/fears/philosophies.

The wartime thinking aspect is obvious here, too. Religion either as a tool for propaganda, as a way to make peace with death, or as something reached for in desperation: At the end of the series, the president ends up making decisions based on myth and scripture (once again: how very American). Of course, prophecies in serial narratives are like guns in first acts, so it remains to be seen how the prophecy will play out, and whether this becomes as much fantasy as sci-fi (I hope it doesn’t).

Reviewing it at this point is like reviewing the first 5th of a movie, but thought I would at least collect my thoughts and give this show a cautious thumbs up. It is more interesting than most.
*I mean, there’s this President who’s making all these policy decisions, right, but you never actually see the people who are most affected by them. There they are, a few thousand refugees floating in space and trying to make it with their limited resources, but you never see where the real desperation is because the camera is pointed exclusively at either those in power, or those with guns.

* Also, I think there are a few things that Gaius does that are just plot-gimmes the writers have used for their own convenience, thinking “oh well, Gaius is mad, his actions don’t have to make sense”, well guess what, fucker, THEY DO. With the invention of possibly the guiltiest man who ever lived, you have a rich seam to mine and you aren’t using it well enough.


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April 2015



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